The Biden Ad We Need Now

The Biden Campaign and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Must Make it Psychologically Safe for Trump Voters to Switch Sides: understanding the role that cognitive dissonance plays is key.

Like many others, I’ve found it stunning that roughly 40 percent of American voters continue to support President Trump despite all his obvious flaws. Many wonder, how could even one voter still support Trump?

And then I remembered something I learned while picking up my Behavioral Sciences degree some 40 years ago. The key is understanding the role of cognitive dissonance when it comes to making and changing a decision. With apologies to my psychology professors, here it is in a nutshell:

When a person is confronted with evidence that they are wrong about something they tend to disregard that information, push it away, try to explain it, etc. because if they accept the new information as fact they are forced to admit to others, but more importantly, to themselves that they were fooled. To be fooled is to be a fool. No one wants to think themself a fool. So instead, we all automatically defend our previous positions sometimes even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So, when the Biden campaign, including the legions of devoted supporters now working phone banks and writing letters, ask a Trump supporter to switch sides they are asking that voter to admit they were a fool. In most cases, it does not work. Hence the stubborn support for Trump, or at least some big part of it.

But there is a way to overcome this. It probably won’t lead most Trump voters, some of whom are clearly stone cold racists, to switch sides. But if this proposed ad campaign is done with enough finesse it could easily sway enough voters to secure victories in the battleground states and flip the senate.

The key: make it psychologically safe, or at least more comfortable, for Trump voters to admit they made a mistake in voting for him the last time. The best way to do that? Let them see and hear from other Trump voters willing to admit they were also fooled, sort of like a support group for disappointed Trump supporters (psychologists know that support groups work, in part, by normalizing feelings that otherwise would be suppressed, ignored, or worse).

That’s why the Biden and Democratic Senatorial campaigns should immediately start running ads that feature snippets of dialogue such as:

From an unemployed steel worker: “Donald Trump promised that he was going to bring my job back from China. But that didn’t happen. Instead, things are worse than ever. I’m so sorry I believed him. I’m not going to make that mistake again.”

From a suburban Mom: “Donald Trump promised that he was going to Make America Great Again. And now, my two adult children are back living under our roof because they have no jobs, no income, and no place else to stay. I can see now it was a mistake to believe what Trump was saying.”

From a military veteran: “Donald Trump said he was going to restore our military and help our soldiers. But instead he has been diverting money from our military to start building the wall he said Mexico was going to pay for. I feel so duped to have believed him. But I am not going to make that mistake again.”

And so on…It hurts to feel like you are an idiot who made an idiotic mistake in 2016. It hurts a lot less, and can even compel folks to action, if they feel they are part of a much larger group that was cleverly deceived but has now wised up.

If the Biden campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee make it psychologically safe for 3–5 percent of stubborn Trump voters to change their mind in the three weeks remaining not only the White House but also the U.S. senate will move, at long last, into more responsible hands.

Don’t insult Trump voters. Don’t make them feel stupid or disrespected. Instead offer them sympathy and support. #WelcomeThemBack

Hal Plotkin is a Senior Scholar at ISKME, in HMB, CA. Senior Advisor, U.S. Dept of Ed (2009-14) and Senior Open Policy Fellow, Creative Commons USA (2014-2017)

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